A view from Iran’s empty parliament hall as seen from the speaker's chair (file photo)

Khamenei Likely To Lose Grip On Parliament In Battle Over Speakership

Wednesday, 05/01/2024

With an approaching run-off election to fill the final 32 parliamentary seats, and three weeks until the new Iranian parliament convenes, a fierce contest ensues among conservatives for the coveted Speaker's position.

Like most other developments in Tehran, the battle over the Speaker's seat is seen as a crucial aspect of the broader preparation for the post-Khamenei era. Yet, no one knows for sure why Iranian conservatives are so confident that Khamenei's days are numbered.

On one hand, conservative politicians vie fiercely for leadership, yet individual Iranians show apathy towards Majles leadership, evident in their lack of participation in the March 1 election, indicating their distrust in the system. However, the outcome is crucial for Ali Khamenei, who risks losing control if a dissenting figure like ultra hardliner Hamid Rasaei replaces incumbent Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who is a relative of the Supreme Leader.

Among the candidates for the seat, Ghalibaf, Paydari Party leaders Morteza Agha-Tehrani and Sadeq Mahsouli, as well as outspoken Hamid Rasaei have been pushing their own campaign for the election of the Speaker in the Majles (parliament)

Paysari and Rasaei's camp, a radical offshoot of Paydari, have revealed that Ghalibaf has been holding meetings with those who have influence the next parliament, promising them posts in the Majles committees and presidium provided that they vote for Ghalibaf as the Speaker.

Social media users have said that Rasaei's statements are part of his campaign to win the Speaker's seat. This comes while some conservatives have said they are adamant to reject Rasaei's credential and bar him from continuing his career as a member of the p[parliament. 

On the other hand, Entekhab News in Tehran has quoted Rasaei as promising free housing, cars and offices to new lawmakers, if he is elected to be the Speaker of the Majles. Critics argue Rasaei and his allies prioritize personal gain over voters' interests.

The challenging situation created by the ultra-hardliners dominating the new parliament is the making of Khamenei’s engineered elections, in which his Guardian Council barred hundreds of ‘reformists’ and traditional conservatives from running as candidates.

While the competition is fierce, Gholamreza Nouri Ghezelcheh, the chairman of the independent MPs' faction at the outgoing parliament has pointed out that "support for Ghalibaf's speakership will come from outside the Majles," meaning that similar to the previous round in 2020, whatever the internal mood, Khamenei will exercise his unquestionable authority to push his relative and confidant Ghalibaf into the Speaker's seat.

Khamenei is likely to lose his grip on the legislative body, if Ghalibaf is replaced by someone like Rasaei who has proven that he has no respect for Khamenei's leadership. He did not obey Khamenei when the Supreme Leader called on new MPs to stop infighting and continued levelling accusations on Ghalibaf immediately after the March election.

According to conservative politician Hamid Reza Taraqqi, "Ghalibaf's position in both the current and upcoming parliaments is precarious. He lacks sufficient support among lawmakers and faces numerous opponents in the new Majles."

Taraqqi believes Ghalibaf is unlikely to garner support from more than 80 of the 290 representatives in the next Majles. However, like Ghezelcheh, Taraqqi suggests that support for Ghalibaf may come from outside the Majles, possibly from Khamenei's household.

From Khamenei's perspective, this presents a lose-lose scenario. If Ghalibaf secures the post, as in the current Majles, he's unlikely to be an effective Speaker, forcing Khamenei into open intervention in legislative affairs, inviting criticism. On the other hand, if Ghalibaf loses, Khamenei risks being at the mercy of "young revolutionary" lawmakers who may not heed him as readily as the old guard.

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